Wolin on Poland's Baltic coast is preparing for the 28th annual Festival of Slavs and Vikings, one of the most wide-ranging celebrations of Norse culture.

Every year, thousands gather on Wolin island, halfway between the towns of Wolin and Recław, beside Szczecin Lagoon, close to Poland's modern-day border with Germany.

The legend of Jomsborg

Associated with the mythic Viking stronghold of Jomsborg, which may have been based here or nearby, Wolin today is the site of a hands-on, open-air museum, also known as a Skanzen. 

This site will hold a four-day festival starting on Thursday, August 3. The center allows visitors to learn the crafts, taste the food, and try on authentic armor as Vikings would have done 1,000 years ago.

Jomsborg has recently been the subject of heated debate after one researcher claimed to have discovered the remains of an ancient fortress here after decades of scholarly conjecture on proof of its existence.

What we do know is that the fearsome warrior Harald Bluetooth died here in 985. However, there is some mystery surrounding his final resting place; the Danes claim it to be Roskilde.

Nonetheless, the legendary ruler continues to inspire this year's festival at Wolin. With "Harald Bluetooth and His Times" as the festival theme, activities will be held from mid-morning until early evening until its conclusion on Sunday, August 6.

It's not just about battle reenactments - although the most authentic, Eastern-style combat activities do occur at Wolin. 

There are archery and spear-throwing competitions, games and contests for kids, craft-making presentations demonstrating how jewelry, coins, horns, and amber were created, live music, readings, and much more.

At the festival, participants not only observe but engage with the past, trying on authentic Viking armor and equipment. Photo: Anna Kepa / Shutterstock

Rites, rituals, and combat

The festival begins with a march and official opening at 11 am on Thursday, August 3. The highlight of the pageant at the Collegiate Church in Wolin will be the ritual handing over of the insignia of power to the Jarl of Jomsborg by the present-day Mayor of Wolin.

Then comes the opening of the temple with a warrior dance and Norse rite of offering, or blót, followed by the Slavic version, with ritual lighting of the fire, a presentation of pennons, a prayer to the fire, and a Slavic rite of offering.

The zhrets, or pagan Slavic priest, makes another appearance at a divination ceremony - ironically, his predecessors would have been at odds with Harald Bluetooth, who is credited with introducing Christianity to Denmark.

The first day's schedule gives a taste of what's in store for the coming weekend, with entertainment ranging from Skaldic tales to a throat-singing workshop, and from a dramatization of the tale of the female Viking warrior, Wisna, to a live reenactment of a slave market.

Battleplay between facing groups of Slavs and Vikings takes place at 4 pm.

The following day starts with archery and polearms contests and a bridge battle between combatant forces, followed by a falconry display and a tale of the Vikings' arrival in Vinland, North America.

After another battle, there's a ladies' dress competition, individual battles for the Jarl of Jomsborg award, and a session of Norwegian theater.

Highlights during Saturday include a reading by Professor Jakub Morawiec on the relationship between Harald Bluetooth and Wolin, a dignified beard and lady's braid contest, early medieval games, a raven tournament, and the chance for two people to get married - it is Saturday, after all - according to Viking or Slavic tradition. 

The afternoon battle will be fought until the last man standing. 

The final day begins with a reading on the conquests of Harald Hardrada by Jarosław Bogusławski, followed by the final battles between individuals and groups of warriors, more temple offerings in Slavic and Viking styles, and a staging of the legendary Blood Eagle from Skaldic lore.

The weekend culminates with live performances from specialist bands such as Ezibaba, Dunajowi, Daj Ognia, and Krive from Poland, Strigon from Slovakia, and Javaryna from Belarus playing variations on medieval music.

For additional details, visit the official festival Facebook page.

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